Dave Bushing’s article on leather football helmets got me thinking and doing a little research to see what I could see. I was curious what I could come up with respect to player’s equipment in the early days of the game. What I found was interesting and I noticed that as much as things change, they still stay the same. No matter what era of the game it seems we look at, the players from the previous days where always tougher; harder men who did not require all the pampering and protection of the “modern athlete”, whatever the period.
The earliest piece I came across was from the Syracuse Daily Herald from November 25th 1896 in an article titled “Well Protected: The Football Player of Today In Modern Armor is Ably Shielded.” The piece goes on to mention that unlike the old days when player only wore heavy jackets, the players of today wear “boots of double thickness”, and “leather protectors for over the stomach and kidneys.” They are also said to be wearing “on each shoulder, is a leather protector about half the size of a regular saddle and must weight three to four pounds.” As far as headgear, the helmet “not only covers the top of the head with a cap of hard leather, but protects the ears with two large muffs of felt.” It is later described that all the assorted gear worn by today’s player adds as much as 30 pounds of weight to him and at a cost of almost $40.00 per man.
A few years latter in the Lowell Sun from September 29th 1899, I found mention something being worn by some players and described in the article as a nose mask. “The nose mask is made of heavy rubber with straws at the top to go round the head. It covers the mouth as well as the nose, thus giving every necessary protection to the teeth. Three holes are pierced in it for breathing purposes. If the player does not set much store by his nose he can wear a mouthpiece only.” While no picture is offered, this does seem a bit more involved than the simple nose guard with a leather strap I am accustomed to seeing. What this sounds like is a very early face mask since it is designed to protect both the nose and mouth on the face. If anyone has a picture of this, I think we would all love to see it.
I was very surprised to see that in 1900, according to the November 12th edition of the Fort Wayne News there is even mention of metal face masks. In that “their men with these new sole leather helmets, hard leather saddles on the shoulders, stiff pads on the elbows, hips and knees, together with metallic masks for their faces. It has been charged that these things have been brought into use not so much to provide protection for the wearers as to inflict injury upon opponents, and there is a general cry that there have been more injuries and bruises this fall because of this armor than ever before.”
My football library is not nearly as extensive as the one I have for baseball by any means. I decided to go back into some of the books I have to see what if anything could be found with respect to what I had found in contemporary newspaper accounts. Sadly I found nothing but this is not surprising given what I have been able to learn with respect to any number of baseball related topics in using newspapers vs more modern published accounts. While my personal interest lies in vintage baseball, I know I am not writing to please myself and that I have been asked by readers to write about other sports as well. If things like this are of interest to you or you have other topics you would like me to look into, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
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